News & Insights

Supreme Court Holds Adea Still Applies To Small County Employer

The United States Supreme Court resolved a split among Circuit Courts on the question of whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) applies to state and federal political entities with fewer than 20 employees.  In Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido, 586 U.S. ____ (2018), the Court unanimously held that the ADEA applies to all federal and state entities, regardless of the size of those entities’ workforce.

The ADEA originally applied to private sector employers with 20 or more employees.  In 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to cover state and local governments.  Prior to the Mount Lemmon decision, smaller political entities argued that the threshold of 20 employees applied to them as it did to private employers.

In Mount Lemmon, in order to resolve a budget shortfall, the Mount Lemmon Fire District terminated its two oldest firefighters, both of whom were over the age of 40.  The firefighters filed suit in federal court, alleging their terminations violated the ADEA.  Mount Lemmon moved to dismiss the lawsuit because it had fewer than 20 employees. 

The District Court granted the Motion to Dismiss.  However, the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the ADEA applied to all state and local governments regardless of size.  The United States Supreme Court agreed.

The Supreme Court’s ruling clarifies that the ADEA applies even to small state and local entities.  State and local actors should carefully review any termination decisions to ensure that a potential ADEA claim will not result.